THE ESB should double the funding it is making available to Offaly following its decision to close its power station in Shannonbridge.
Local Fine Gael TD Marcella Corcoran Kennedy made the call after the ESB announced it will set up a €5 million investment fund for communities affected by the closure of West Offaly Power and a sister station in Co Longford, Lough Ree Power.
Deputy Corcoran Kennedy’s appeal to the ESB was echoed by the Fianna Fail TD for Offaly, Deputy Barry Cowen, who has also called for a substantial increase in the fund.
The public representatives pointed out that when the ESB closed Ferbane and Rhode power stations, a fund of €3 million was allocated to the community in both areas.
The Dail members were speaking this week as the Climate Action Minister, Richard Bruton TD, visited Bord na Mona’s Lough Boora Discovery Park to drive home the Government’s message that the transition to a low carbon economy will be a just one.
However, in a move which disappointed local people on Monday, Minister Bruton did not visit Shannonbridge and instead went to Co Longford afterwards to meet people affected by the closure of the power station in Lanesborough.
A total of 41 people are currently employed at West Offaly Power and while some might opt to take redundancy, others may be redeployed elsewhere in the ESB.
Minister Bruton accepted on Monday that the biggest economic impact in Offaly will be on Bord na Mona, supplier of peat to the power station. Of Bord na Mona’s 2,000 strong workforce, 1,000 are employed in Offaly and it is estimated that hundreds of jobs will be lost with the closure of the power station.
Ferbane and Rhode power stations were decommissioned in 2001 and 2003 and with Shannonbridge ending generation in December 2020, it will leave just one peat-fired station in Offaly, the Edenderry Power facility near Clonbullogue which is owned and operated by Bord na Mona.
The Shannonbridge and Lanesborough closures follow the refusal of planning permission for the co-fuelling of the Offaly plant with biomass (wood chip), a process which already takes place at Edenderry Power.
Its planning consent ends in 2023 but a Bord na Mona spokesman confirmed this week a new planning application is being prepared and its shape will be informed by the An Bord Pleanala decision which spelled the end of the two ESB stations.
About 40 per cent of the fuel load at Edenderry Power is biomass, 80 per cent of which is being sourced in Ireland.
One of An Bord Pleanala’s chief concerns when it assessed the Shannonbridge application was the source of its biomass which the ESB confirmed would have to be imported in advance of a major increase in domestic production.
Speaking in Lough Boora on Monday, Minister Bruton said up to 700 jobs will be created by a number of initiatives, including 300 in a home retrofitting programme in the Midlands.
It will be a pilot project for the entire country and will begin with a retrofitting scheme for social housing.
He anticipated that 400 jobs will be created in “new activities”, including initiatives being brought forward by Bord na Mona as it transitions from the production of peat products to areas such as recycling and renewable energy.
“We do recognise that some people will opt for early exit and Bord na Mona have reopened an early exit package. We are also very determined to see that there are reskilling opportunities for people,” said Minister Bruton.
“The Government is determined that we will have a just transition to support the workers to find alternative employment opportunities and to support the region.”
Deputy Corcoran Kennedy said Government support is crucial during this period in advance of the West Offaly Power closure.
“It has the potential to be devastating but I’m delighted that the Minister and the Government are ensuring that the just transition is available for workers, the communities, and indeed the local authority in this area,” she said.
“We have had Bord na Mona and the ESB as the major employers in our county for decades. In a way we have been spoiled by that but now we know that things are changing and there’s a great deal of fear in the communities, a great deal of fear in the workplace, so we want to reassure people that the Government are completely behind the just transition and are going to put money behind it and every energy behind it.
“We can see that with the appointment of the Just Transition Commissioner and we look forward to working with him to ensure there is indeed a just transition in this area.”
Kieran Mulvey, a man best known as an industrial relations mediator, has been appointed at Just Transition Commissioner but Deputy Cowen said on Monday that by not giving the post to a Midlands-based person, the Government had “reneged on a commitment”.
The Fianna Fail TD, who met Minister Bruton at Lough Boora, also called for a Dail debate on the terms of reference for the just transition fund which was announced in the budget.
“I said to the Minister notwithstanding the fine work Mr Mulvey has done for the State at their instruction in the past, the last thing I want to see is him going on a tour of the Midlands for the next six months,” said Mr Cowen. ”
“There’s enough plans and reports on foot of transition by the workforce and their unions, local authorities, in area action and community plans, to hit the ground running and to get to work at this.”
Deputy Cowen also said options should be explored for the future use of the Shannonbridge plant, rather than having it “dismantled”.
The TD is also concerned about the impact of the power station closure on Offaly County Council’s commercial rates income and he has already tabled Dail questions to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government on the amount paid by the ESB and Bord na Mona to the council in each of the last three years.
He is also asking what “contingencies” the Minister has in place to cover the loss in commercial rates revenue for the council.
On the subject of ESB funding following the closure, Deputy Cowen said he told Minister Bruton he believes the Government should commit to an annual allocation over the next 10 years and it should be “a greater contribution than has been anticipated”.
He also called for a commitment that funds from the European Union be used for transition in the Midlands region rather than bog rehabilitation.
In other reaction to the Shannonbridge and Lanesborough closures, the Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, led prayers and said the personal, social and financial impact on the region cannot be underestimated.
Green Party Senator in Offaly, Pippa Hackett, said the Just Transition Fund should be permanent and said it is necessary to know precisely how the money will be spent, what kind of training will be provided, and what jobs will be created.
Cllr John Leahy, the Kilcormac-based Independent, contrasted the Government’s plan here with what had happened in Spain where a “similar task in the coal-mining industry has been costed at €250 million”.
“This has been put in place with a package of benefits and a sustainable development plan. It has offered workers in the declining Spanish coal industry a plan and a future,” said Cllr Leahy.
Turn to page 13 for further coverage of the Shannonbridge closure and Minister Bruton’s visit to Lough Boora.